COLLECTION: Tracking Your Trucks

Haulers that want to ensure their operations are lean and mean should consider integrating global positioning, computer-assisted routing and performance tracking systems. Together, they can increase performance, reduce overtime, aid in driver safety and improve customer service.

For instance, while no supervisor has a helicopter to circle the city and ensure that each driver is working at peak performance, today's technology has improved so that supervisors can pinpoint from their desk where drivers are located through telemetry or a satellite-based global positioning system (GPS).

Telemetry is a land-based operation that establishes a vehicle's location through stations, similar to a cellular telephone system. The system sends signals from two or three stations to locate the vehicle through triangulation. This is where the direction and distance of each station's signal to the vehicle is calculated, then plotted on a map. The user can establish the query frequency the telemetry system will “triangulate” where the driver is, based on need and costs. More queries per time period increases costs.

GPS, on the other hand, uses a top-down approach to locate vehicles. Stationary satellites positioned in orbit at various locations around the globe cast a view down onto the earth's surface. And a GPS-equipped vehicle can be identified by its position on a map's surface, similar to a pin on a flat mat. Each system requires a transponder that provides unique vehicle data to mesh with the system.

While telemetry and GPS systems allow for real-time tracking and can provide driver information, such as what they are doing and where they are, these tools should be integrated with a hauler's routing and billing applications.

In fact, an ideal integrated system should:

  • Tell drivers where they should be going, what the customer service schedule is and in what sequence.

  • Capably download assigned routes to an on-board computer that provides the data to the driver.

  • Pinpoint where drivers are located, either in real-time or in short query intervals.

  • Describe the driver's workday, such as what time stops were made, how fast the driver was traveling and, more importantly, whether there was something the driver did but shouldn't have.

  • Allow customer service representatives to input customer requests from their desks.

  • Interface driver and pickup data with a billing system.

  • Help the hauler to determine the most efficient collection route.

  • If a system is integrated properly, it should help to establish driver schedules, routes, sequencing, etc., as well as allow a customer service representative to add in a new account or increase the service level without having to start mapping from scratch. This way, if a customer calls for an extra pickup late in the day, a supervisor will know where the closest truck is and can radio the truck to make the stop.

    Ideally, good routing software will place the new stop in the proper sequence of all the day's stops, generate a pickup list and calculate the most efficient driving route. Then, the driver should be able to download this data into a monitor in the truck cab.

    The monitor and display system should allow drivers to enter standardized codes or notes into the software, such as why a service was not rendered. The driver should be able to note if a vehicle was blocking access, a bin was overloaded or some other complication prevented a pickup.

    An integrated system also should be able to log the actual pickup time to enable companies to analyze route productivity and eliminate instances when a driver claims to be somewhere else.

    For instance, on-board systems can be programmed as either positive- or negative-response systems. With a positive-response system, the driver manually signals the system that a stop has been made or indicates why the pickup couldn't be made. With a negative-response system, the truck itself signals the system at each service address, leaving the driver to note pickup exceptions.

    For automated residential collection, systems can be programmed to log a pickup each time the arm is activated at the appropriate address. When the driver pulls up to a customer that doesn't have any carts at the curb, an alternative code can be entered into the system for that address. Then, when a customer claims that his carts weren't picked up, a quick query to the driver's truck data can identify the exact time the truck was at that customer's residence and that the driver logged in that there were no carts for that address.

    Ultimately, pickup data should be transferable to the billing system so that a hauler can change a customer's invoice and download the information into the routing software if changes need to be made.

    The challenge to developing an integrated system, however, is to make sure software from three or four different vendors are compatible. Most manufacturers have developed software for the waste industry that can work with different brands. However, ensuring compatibility may require an in-house expert or outside consultant. So before purchasing an integrated system, identify the software packages your company intends to use, then ask each vendor whether they can develop an interface module.

    Once a hauler has the ability to route, supervise and record what his refuse trucks are doing from his desk, or once a field truck can provide customer and billing data, this can improve operational efficiency. Ultimately, this can help to reduce the ratio of supervisors to employees. Also, this ensures that supervisors know where trucks are located and are making money.